Sails, sails, sails... that's what sailboats are all about. But hand on heart, do you really know all the types of foresail or the difference between a jib, a genoa and a 130? What does a spinnaker look like and what range of extra sails can you order with a charter sailboat? Check out our article to find out everything you need to know about basic and additional sails.
For simplicity, we've divided the sails into two main categories:
- Basic sails — fitted as standard on almost every boat.
- Additional sails — must be ordered as an extra and brought to your boat.
Basic sails on a yacht
These are the sails rigged as standard on most sailboats (including sheets and halyards), and you won't have to install, attach or mount them on in any way. The basic sail configuration consists of a foresail (headsail) on the forestay and a mainsail at the mast. However, there are numerous types of sail, so let's break them down in detail.
The foresail: how it works
The foresail on charter boats is most often furled (rolled up) on the forestay using a device called a roller furling jib. This is basically a winch or a spool (drum) on which the line is wound. This line is then used to turn the forestay and furl the sail — the furling line (halyard) is loosened to hoist the sail and pulled to furl the sail. Some modern sailboats have the furling halyard hidden below deck with the lines leading to it through a hole. This is not as practical as when the drum is outside when tangled lines can be easily seen and sorted out.
Most charter sailboats have a foresail on a roller furling drum (left). The foresail furled around the forestay (right).
A less common way for the headsail to be rigged is for it to be set on the sliders. These sliders ride along the forestay and the sail then falls to the deck when taken down. However, you will not see this on larger charter sailboats. This is more the domain of smaller lake boats, special racers, older models or other specialised boats.
Which destination are you tempted to go sailing in?
Foresail types: genoa, jib
There are many names related to foresails — staysail, headsail, genoa or jib. Some sailors use one name for all types or don't distinguish between them which is actually a mistake. There are differences between them, so let's break them down so you know their proper names.
If you imagine the triangle that a sail forms between the forestay and the mast, the jib fills it 100 %, and no more. Since its tip does not go beyond the mast (there is no overlap), a jib can therefore be self-tacking. A self-tacking jib runs on traveller tracks mounted forward of the mast at the bow. As a result, you don't have to manually move it at all when tacking as it swings itself from side to side according to the wind direction. A jib is recommended for family holidays or for less experienced crews because it is very easy to operate. Its main drawback is its smaller surface area which experienced sailors don't appreciate — it can't be precisely trimmed (you can't adjust the lead fore and aft).
A sailing boat with a jib
A self-tacking jib can often be found on Hanse boats. The most popular models include:
The genoa or genoa jib (originally called an overlapping jib) is a foresail sail that extends past the mast, filling more than 100 % of the foresail triangle. As a result it is referred to according to its area — genoa 140 (fills 100 % plus 40 % beyond the mast), or genoa 120 (fills 100 % plus 20 % beyond the mast), and so on. As a genoa is larger than a standard jib, extending past the mast, it can never be self-tacking. Compared to a jib, a genoa allows for better sail trim, but it takes at least one person to handle the sheets when tacking.
This boat has a genoa. See how its tip extends past the mast
Large genoas can be found on boats from Dufour. Here are the most popular models:
Mainsails are mainly classified according to the mechanism by which they are folded up or furled. They can be divided into 3 groups:
- Standard mainsail
- In-mast furling sail
- In-boom furling sail
1. Tradition mainsail that drops into a lazy bag
A classic mainsail (sometimes called full-batten) is a sail that lowers into a lazy bag (lazy pack, stack pack) attached to the boom. As you lower the sail, it folds up into this protective cover and is the most traditional method of furling the mainsail. The lazy bag is then zipped up, protecting the sail from UV rays and rain. Lazy jacks are the network of lines rigged from the mainsail to the lazy bag.
In most cases, a classic mainsail has spars or battens that are tucked into cavities across the sail (imagine a thick ruler). Their function is to hold the shape of the sail, which is most noticeable in light winds.
Depending on whether the spars run the full length of the sail or only part way, there is also a distinction between full-batten and partial batten mainsails.
The classic mainsail is folded into a lazy bag.
Want to know more about sailing? Or become a captain? No problem!
2. In-mast furling sail
A mainsail of this type furls onto an aluminium foil that revolves inside the mast. To hoist this sail, simply turn a crank to unfurl. No need to deal with halyards, lazy bags, lazy jacks...
This type of sail is popular with families, small crews or beginners as it is easy to hoist, lower and operate. A distinct advantage of a furling sail is essentially limitless and fully flexible reefing — simply furl out precisely the amount you need without having to manage the complicated process of reefing with a traditional sail (releasing the mainsheet, lowering the halyard, putting slack on the reef line, securing the reef tack, etc.)
A furling mainsail is often used on boats designed for leisurely cruising, i.e. for holidaying and cruising between islands.
However, furling sails are not appreciated by everyone, particularly experienced sailors, because the sails can't be perfectly trimmed and the furling mechanism can get jammed. Plus, because it is a semi-automatic device, there is a greater risk of the sail occasionally snagging. This rarely happens with a traditionally hoisted sail — when an incident occurs and its halyard breaks, at worst the sail just falls onto the deck, losing power.
3. In-boom furling sail
This is not as common, but even on charter boats, you may come across a mainsail that furls into the boom. The principle is similar to an in-mast furling sail.
Which mainsail to choose? A practical summary of the pros and cons
Can be lowered quickly in an emergency
More laborious to hoist and furl
Easy to hoist and furl
Furling mechanism can get jammed
Battens give it shape, can be trimmed better
Only has 2–3 reefing positions
Provides limitless reefing
No battens so it doesn't hold its shape, can't be trimmed as well
What are additional sails?
Additional sails (extras) are not fitted as standard on a charter boat and you have to rig the sail yourself. If you request additional sails, you will either be given them at the charter boat check-in, or the charter company staff will prepare them for you on board in a bag or special sleeve with the appropriate sheets. We always recommend that you study how to install these sails in advance or take someone experienced along with you. It is not exactly rocket science, but on the other hand, it is not as easy as with a genoa, where it's not really possible to make any big mistakes when hoisting or tacking.
A gennaker doesn’t climb the mast like a mainsail and is not attached to the forestay like a genoa. Hoisting it is more difficult.
But bear in mind that not every boat is designed to use additional sails. Recreational boats are often only made for basic sails, with no halyards, poles, bowsprit or pulleys for a gennaker or spinnaker, nor does their design allow for these sails to be rigged. When booking a boat, ask our sales team if extra sails can be ordered for that particular model.
Types of additional sails: gennaker, spinnaker and parasailor
Think of a gennaker as a large genoa made of similar material to a parachute or hot air balloon. Due to its light weight, the gennaker is used more often in light winds. Of course, racers pull it out at 25 knots, but for recreational sailors this is extreme and you'll get the most use from it in winds up to 15 knots. In these conditions, you will enjoy fantastic downwind sailing with an aesthetically pleasing, colourful and uncommon sail.
Gennaker in action
YACHTING.COM TIP: Hoisting and sailing with a gennaker is simply breathtaking and is sure to soothe your sailing spirit. It is also a very aesthetic experience, so social media fans or those who want the best sailing shots will love you for it. A gennaker has distinctive colours or patterns, making it very photogenic. Do you have reservations about renting a gennaker? Read our article on 5 reasons to give a gennaker a try.
For example, Gennaker can be ordered for ships:
A spinnaker differs from the gennaker in two ways. Firstly, it is a symmetrical sail (its luff is as long as its leech) so not shaped like a gennaker (shaped more like a big genoa). Secondly, it has a special spinnaker pole and special lines (topping lift and downhaul)
A spinnaker is recommended for more experienced sailors, enthusiasts, racers or those who are up for a challenge. As mentioned, the spinnaker differs from the gennaker by having an extra spinnaker pole. This is a long pole similar to a boom (but slightly narrower) that is rigged to run from the base of the mast on the windward side. This pole must be moved and repositioned at each gybe. The spinnaker, therefore, requires the assistance of one or two people at the bow of the boat to operate it. In short, sailing, trimming and repositioning the spinnaker is for sailors of a higher level and not suitable for a leisurely family holiday. On the other hand, the spinnaker is a lot of fun to use and practising more advanced sailing skills is great for more experienced crews.
A spinnaker can usually be rented with sportier boats, such as the First 35.
Spinnaker in action
YACHTING.COM TIP: Beware of terminology! Some sailors are unfamiliar with the term gennaker and instead, call it an asymmetrical spinnaker. A spinnaker is then referred to as a symmetrical spinnaker.
Although still relatively rare, there is a special type of additional sail called a parasailor, which we've come across more and more frequently at sea. In principle, it works as a cross between a spinnaker and a gennaker, but with an additional wing. Not a great deal has been written about this sail, but you may see it during your holiday and now you know what it is.
The basic insurance package from yachting.com covers damage to your basic sails — genoa, jib and mainsail. If you are ordering an additional sail (gennaker or spinnaker) you'll need to take out insurance for these as well. Our sales team can help you with this when booking.
YACHTING.COM TIP: The sails you get with a boat rental are not always that new and the wind can be unforgiving. If you take out deposit insurance and your sail does get torn, you can rest easy that you won't lose your money. Check out more reasons why to take out deposit insurance.
Sailing boats available: